Prime noir

The film noir quality of Stephen Harper's new ads

I haven’t been able to get that Conservative TV ad “Rising to the Challenge“—the one with the Prime Minister working alone in semi-darkness in Parliament’s Centre Block—out of my mind. I think I know why: I’ve always been a sucker for old film noir movies, and this ad is a one-minute slice of derivative noir film-making, although it would have been more effective as homage if the Tories had shot it in black and white.

The other hallmarks of the genre are all there. First, an atmosphere of melodramatic foreboding is established (00.01-00.08). Next, the classic noir cinematographic toolkit is swiftly unpacked—extreme contrasts of shadow and light (00.11), shots from odd angles, notably up dimly lit stairways (00.13), occasional cuts to extreme close-ups (00.14).

The protagonist is presented as a solitary man. In the classic formation, he’d be a private eye in his austere office with what little light is allowed slipping in through venetians. Here we have a Prime Minister (00.25), alone in his lair with the requisite slatted blinds behind him (I guess there was no way to work in a dame showing up with a case to solve).

The noir mood dissipates a bit, unfortunately, as the narrator talks through the Harper government’s economic accomplishments, while we watch our lone hero doing mere paperwork, and failing entirely to moodily light a cigarette, pour himself a stiff belt, or check to see if the revolver in his desk drawer is loaded. Also, I don’t think Sam Spade would drink from a Fab Four coffee mug (00.37).

Still, the director redeems himself (00.54) with a nicely noirish closing shot of the Parliament Buildings, shot from the right disorientingly low angle, with the light of the eternal flame used to the correct lurid effect. As the narrator intones over this atmospheric image, “With so much at stake, why would we risk changing course?”, he strikes the appropriate fearful noir tone, although I think a voice closer to Sydney Greenstreet’s would have served better.

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